Rooting For the Cheaters

When the Mitchell Report was released back in December, nearly 90 current and former MLB players found themselves being accused of using performance enhancing drugs at some point during their careers. Of course there were the usual suspects, like Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Miguel Tejada. But there was also some guy named Phil Hiatt. Now, as someone who considers himself a considerable baseball enthusiast, I must admit, I had never heard of Phil, or a handful of other players listed in the 409-page report. The point being, steroids apparently were(or are) a widespread problem, from superstars, right down to journeyman utility infielders, such as Mr. Hiatt.

What has followed in the months since the reports’ release has been nothing short of some kind of traveling circus, landing itself somewhere between hilarious and disgraceful. From the Roger Clemens v. Brian McNamee federal investigation, to the sudden lack of interest in Barry Bonds, to the fact that some other relatively big names seemed to escape any attention associated with the allegations (does anyone remember that Paul Lo Duca and Troy Glaus were accused?).

Now, as March now turns to April, and actual baseball games are upon us, fans of teams whose rosters include those named in the Mitchell Report are left with a potentially challenging question: “Do I still root for {insert name} now that he has been accused of cheating?” For some, the answer may be simple. If you don’t consider these allegations to indicate cheating, then there is no issue. If you are a Dodger fan, Nook Logan (yes, he is, in fact, a baseball player) likely will have little impact on the outcome of your team’s season. But what if you are in my shoes? A Yankee fan; and the #2 starter in your shaky rotation is Andy Pettitte, who has come out as one of the primary names of the post-Mitchell report media frenzy? I can say for certain, that steroids and HGH or not, I will be pulling for Pettitte whenever he takes the mound every 5 days. Much of the fate of the Yankee season depends on his left arm. But does this equate to my supporting the use of performance-enhancing drugs? I hope not. And I don’t think it does.

Perhaps Pettitte is a bad example, because he is held in high regard in the public eye and has been open and up front about the issue since his name has come up. I genuinely believe he regrets what he did, and would change his decision given the chance. But San Francisco never stopped pulling for Barry Bonds, even when the rest of the country did.

No athlete is immune to being human. And while the steroids controversy has taken center stage in recent years, it has become apparent that it was a problem long before we knew about it. To decry the current crop of juicers as “destroying the integrity of the game,” is to ignore the less than perfect lives led by many past stars. And while I understand that cheating at the game is a terrible act, is it somehow more terrible than some of the acts committed by other players, such as cheating on their spouse, cheating on their taxes, or dealing with addictions to various substances? The problem is that in the eyes of some fans, the game begins to supersede real life. We are able to continue to root for a player who has mistreated his family, but we condemn a player who did something (albeit against the rules) to try to improve the quality of his game? I do not see the logic.

My solution is to continue to root for every player on my team, in the context of the game. I watch sports for entertainment, for fun, and for…well, that’s it, really. I don’t expect anything else out of it. I realized somewhere in the process of growing up that every person we look up to, be it athlete, parent, or friend, will let us down if we expect them to be perfect. As humans, we are capable of only so much. We still support our friends and families despite past decisions they have made. Why not show the same courtesy to the athletes who provide us entertainment (and make us pull our hair out on occasion)? The best thing we can offer players like Pettitte is our support. If I have a son one day, and he wants to be “just like” Pettitte, then perhaps there will be a conversation to be had. But for now, my team needs him.

Dan Mason is set to graduate in May with his B.S. in Accounting. He day-dreams about being in the wilderness. Most importantly, he is set to be married in August.

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